Aim #30: What were the major beliefs of the transcendentalists?

Aim #30: What are the main ideas of
DO NOW! Read excerpts from Thoreau and
Emerson and answer accompanying
1. How are you affected by nature? Do you find
comfort in it?
2. What is meant by an individual's spiritual side? How
to you define it?
3. What does it mean to know something intuitively?
For example, has a parent or a sibling ever known
something was wrong with you without having talked
with or seen you? What do we mean when we say "I
just know it"?
(I) Background to Transcendentalists
a. The ultimate truth transcends the physical world
b. (1840-1855): literature in America experienced a
rebirth called the New England Renaissance
c. Believed in an intuitive way of thinking as a means
of discovering truth and god, not through reason, but
through introspection and exposure to nature
d. Through their poetry, short stories, novels and other
works, writers during this period established a clear
American voice
1. No longer did they see their work as less influential
than that of European authors
e. Began as a reaction to
1. economic prosperity: message was
against materialism
2. Social problems (slavery child labor,
materialism, political corruption, American
f. result: transcendentalists looked at their
intellectual and artistic sides to solve these
problems (Northeast, primarily
(II) Who were the Transcendentalists?
a. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
1. nationalist: urged Americans not to
imitate European culture, but to create an
American culture
2. Wrote essay titled, “Reliance”; advocated
individualism and independent thinking
3. 1850s: became leading critic of slavery
4. Famous work Nature (Nature was the source
of deep Human inspiration; helps individuals see truth
within their souls; genuine Spirituality come through
communion with nature)
b. Henry David Thoreau
1. In his work, “On Civil Disobedience” he
advocated for:
 non-violent protests
 disobeying unjust laws (he was arrested for not
paying a poll tax that might be used to support
unjust war with Mexico)
2. “Walden”: written while living in the woods
alone for 2 years; used time alone to observe
nature and introspect on “truth”
R.W. Emerson Essay “Nature” 1836
In the quest for Self-Fulfillment
Individuals should work for Communion
with Nature
“In the woods, we return to reason and
faith… Standing on the bare ground my
head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted
into infinite space, all mean egotism
vanishes… I am part and particle of God.”
“I went to the woods because I wished to
live deliberately, to confront only the
essential facts of life and see if I could not
learn what It had to teach.
And not when I came to die I discover
that I had not lived”
(III) What was the legacy of the
a. Transcendentalists left these legacies:
1. Influence Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. through
the notion of civil disobedience
2. Influenced the beat generation of writers and
artists during the 1950s and the radicals of the
1960s and 1970s where anti-war, anti-government
and anti-materialism ideologies existed
3. Meditation and the New Age movement
(IV) Communal Experiments in the mid-1800s?
a. Idea of withdrawing from society and
establishing an ideal or utopian community
b. Examples include:
1. Brook Farm, Massachusetts
2. Shakers: held property in common (no private
property); strict separation of men and women
A view of Shaker Meeting from
1885. A photographer from the
Poland Spring Hotel took this
image. The Shakers are seated in
the front benches. The spectators
and guests from the Poland Spring
Hotel are in the back rows.
Communal experiments – continued-
3. New Harmony, Indiana: secular
community; founded by Robert Owen;
community would solve problems of inequity
caused by industrialization and capitalism
4.Oneida: dedicated to the ideas of perfect
economic and social equality; children raised
communally; all residents were married to
all other residents